150 pray for victims, children

Relatives and community members gathered in a field in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday night to pray for three people who were recently killed near Wolf Lodge Bay and to plead for the return of the two children still missing.

About 150 people lighted candles and stood in a circle at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds during the first large public vigil since the discovery early last week of the beaten and bound bodies of 40-year-old Brenda Groene; Mark McKenzie, 37; and Slade Groene, 13.

“It’s just to pray,” said Wendy Price, an aunt of the dead teenager and his two younger siblings, Shasta Groene, 8, and Dylan Groene, 9, who remained missing.

Price said she hoped media coverage of the vigil might help unlock the silence that has thus far thwarted a massive hunt for those responsible for children’s disappearance.

“If they see this, hopefully it will soften somebody’s heart,” Price said.

Steve Groene, the children’s father, also attended the vigil, which included moments of silence interspersed with prayers for the victims and those left behind.

Pastor Bill Putman encouraged the crowd to hold on to hope for the return of the children, saying it takes a group effort to buoy sagging spirits. Putman also offered a public prayer for the relatives of the missing and slain, and noted the event was taking place on the eve of the funeral for Brenda and Slade Groene.

“Would you bless the families tonight as they go to sleeplessness?” Putman prayed, as he stood in the center of the field, sheltering his candle from the breeze.

A group of pastors has been meeting with relatives of the homicide victims in recent days, Putman told the small crowd. “I tell you, we’ve been with some heartbroken people.”

Photographs of the two missing children hung from a small shrine erected on the field. Their smiling faces flickered in the amber candlelight. Near the end of the vigil, quiet sobbing was heard during the silent moments. People huddled close beneath blankets and were quick to relight neighbors’ candles after periodic gusts of breeze.

“God, we know you love little children,” said Pastor George Forgacs. “We know you can move mountains. … Lord, we know you can bring these kids back and we just ask that right now.”

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